Tag Archives: Assessments

Creating a Class Quilt

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By Rachel Stepp

One of my favorite projects is creating a class quilt (out of paper…no needles required :). This activity promotes class unity, reinforces summarizing skills, uses the strategies of visualizing, synthesizing and connecting, and creates a stunning bulletin board or wall display. How’s that for multi-tasking?

Begin with a Book

To introduce this idea, read The Quilt Story by Tony Johnston. Teach your class about the history of quilts, including how women used to use scraps from old clothing to piece together a warm quilt. Talk about how quilts can tell stories because of their different scraps. Your class will be making a quilt that will tell a story they want to share.

Quilting Steps

  1. Brainstorm different stories your students might want to tell. List their ideas on the board, which may include: something I like to do at school, all about me (personality and interests), my favorite memory, my favorite thing that we have studied this year, all about my pet, all about my family, etc.
  2. Give each student a square of white construction paper (an 8″ square is easy to cut from an 8×10 sheet, and white makes a nice background for student pictures).
  3. First, students should write a rough draft of their paragraph (or sentence, depending on age level) on notebook paper. Discuss using sensory details, correct paragraph format, etc. Modeling a sample paragraph on the board, first, is a wise idea before students begin.
  4. Their paragraphs/sentences need to be rewritten in a final draft on white paper (or a notecard) and glued onto their squares, near the bottom (to leave room for an illustration).
  5. Once their paragraphs/sentences are complete, they can begin drawing a scene on their white square to illustrate their writing.
  6. When each child has finished, mount each white square on a larger square of colored construction paper. You may choose to laminate each mounted square for a polished look, but it’s not necessary. Punch a hole in each of the four corners of the colored squares, and use yarn to tie the squares together to look like a quilt. Yarn bows look especially cute and “quilt-y.” If you have an odd number of students, use plain colored construction paper squares randomly throughout the quilt to make an even number so the quilt forms an even rectangle when pieced together.
  7. To save time, the white squares could also simply be glued to a large piece of colored bulletin board paper to make one large quilt.
  8. Be sure to give your quilt a title and hang it in a visible place so that other classes can see it. This will help to share the story of your classroom throughout the school.

This idea could also be modified as a creative book report idea: each student could create a square to summarize a book or a different chapter. The quilt could even be used to sequence an historical event or time period, like the Civil War.

By making a class quilt, your students will be able to see that they can all work together to create a masterpiece. To continue with the theme of quilts, you can invite parents into the classroom to bring in family quilts. Student connections will abound, making this activity a memorable one for all!

If your students get inspired, they may want to make a “real” quilt at home with this beginner’s “knot quilt” kit from The School Box. So darn cute!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia who is full of creative ideas.



Filed under Activities, Art, Assessments, Classroom Community, Classroom Decor, comprehension, Cooperative Learning, creative writing, grammar, Reading, Writing

What Letter Are We Learning This Week??

by Rachel Stepp

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Are your children still at a level where they benefit from studying letters? Well, you can help them by focusing on one letter a week. For example, if you wanted to study the letter “Hh” this week, here are some ideas for what you could do:

Focus on five different words.

This will help you to plan your activities and create projects. If I was going to study “Hh” this week, I might choose the words: house, hats, helpers, hippos and happy. These are all broad words that I think I will be able to find picture books about or lessons based around. Now, create your activities for each word that you chose:


Read aloud  A House for a Hermit Crab by Eric Carle. Discuss with your children the different houses that the hermit crab lives in and what he adds to his house during the book. You could do an art activity and decorate “hermit crab houses” (just drawn on paper) and use art supplies to embellish them. You could also have your students draw their own houses and share them with the class. This would help the children realize the differences among houses and the fact that there is diversity within their own classroom.


Of course on this day, I would encourage you to allow your students to wear hats to school! If your school won’t allow baseball caps or any other distractions, then make paper hats in your classroom that day. Your students can wear their hats while they are in your classroom, but be careful about letting them wear them to lunch, specials and recess.

You can also talk about different types of hats and their purposes. For example, you might talk about helmets, chef’s hats, and head-dresses.


If you talk about community helpers during the year, this would be a great time to review about them or to bring them up in discussion. Ask students to identify some community helpers such as the mailman, doctors and policemen. Students can also identify themselves as helpers if you have helper jobs in your classroom.


In my experiences, I have found that children generally love to learn about animals. Take time one day to teach your students about hippos. Find images and hippo sounds that you could share with your students. Find an informational book about hippos and allow your students to write about what they learn.


Students can learn about their feelings and the feelings of others when studying about being “happy.” Have children draw and make happy faces. Let children tell and describe what makes them happy. This would be a good activity to end the day so that your students leave school thinking happy thoughts.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia whose good ideas are frequently published on A Learning Experience.

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Filed under Activities, Assessments, Reading, Writing

Quick and Easy Review Activity

by Kelli Lewis

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Want an easy way to review concepts you’re currently studying? Make a “Talk About It Box”! A “Talk About It Box” is simply a small box (like an empty tissue box) that’s been decorated and filled with question strips that relate to a current topic of study. During lulls in the day (or transition times), you can pull out a strip and call on a student to answer the question. You could even pull one for every student and tell them that as soon as they answer their question, they can line up for lunch/ get their coat for recess/ stand behind their chair, etc.

To make this, you’ll need:

  • an empty Kleenex box
  • construction paper
  • markers
  • strips of cardstock paper OR index cards (laminated if you want to reuse them)
  • stickers or other decorative materials (optional)

1.) First, cover the tissue box with construction paper, leaving the hole open at the top.

2.) Think of prompts or questions to write on the strips or cards. These questions can relate to a current unit (How many planets are in our solar system?) or be general discussion questions (What’s one new thought you had during science today?). They could even be “get to know you” questions (What’s your favorite game to play at home?)

3.) Use markers, stickers, and any other decorative materials to decorate your box.

4.) Place the prompt/question strips/cards into the top hole of the box, and voila! You’re ready to go!

When to “Talk About It”:

This is a great way to keep kids engaged during transition times, and also an impressive way to use ‘down time’ if an administrator pops in while you’re lining up for lunch or switching between subjects! Substitute teachers could even use it if they’re in your room and need a way to control chaos when returning after lunch or specials.

How to Fill the Question Strips:

You could have students come up with their own prompts/questions if you teach older grades. For younger grades, here are just a few to get you started:

-Name two things that you would find in the kitchen.

-What are two words that start with the /f/ sound?

-What is the last letter in the alphabet?

-Name three types of fruit.

-Name two pieces of clothing you would wear in the winter.

-What noise would you make if you were a cow?

-What number comes after 10?

-Name two words that end with a /t/ sound.

-Name a green vegetable.

-Name a primary color.

Now, go Talk About It!

Kelly Lewis is a graduate student a The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience.


Filed under Activities, Assessments, Behavior Management, Classroom Community

Parent Teacher Conference Tips!

by Rachel Stepp

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It’s that time of year again…time for parent/teacher conferences. Here are a few quick reminders of what you will need during parent/teacher conferences so that they run smoothly and on time!

Student Work/Portfolio
Starting at the beginning of the year, begin collecting your students’ work. Don’t collect and keep everything! Keep some things that students have completed with great success and keep other things that the students might be struggling with. You can keep each individual student’s work in individual binders or in a file. At the conference, this will help you because you will be able to show the parents some of the work that their children are completing and what they are learning.

Have a list of all of your students’ grades on each individual assignment, incase parents have questions. If a child is doing poorly on certain projects, then a parent might be concerned and want to know how they can help. If you give an overall grade or average, parents might not know which topics their children are struggling with. It also helps to break the grades down into major subjects such as “tests,” “quizzes,” “class work,” and “homework.”

How to Help at Home
Give your parents concrete suggestions about how they can help their children at home. These could be ideas about cheap and easy games to reinforce math skills or some facts about the benefits of reading at home.

Questions from Parent
Always offer a time for a parent to ask questions. These questions could range from specifics about their child, lunch menus, fieldtrips or school events. If you don’t have an answer for a parent right away, then offer to call or e-mail them later in the week with the answer.

School Events
Keep a calendar of upcoming school events to show the parents. This will help them feel involved in the community and the school. Some calendars and announcements that are given to students or posted online are never seen by the parents.

Translation/Extra Support
If your students’ parents need an English translation in order to have a conference with you, make sure that it is available. Talk to your ESL teacher about having a translator and having important documents translated into native languages. This will help the conference go smoothly and accurately.

Remember to schedule your conferences ahead of time, and remind the parents about specific conference times. This will eliminate no-shows and late arrivals. Keep a phone number handy so that you can reach parents if they are late. Also, follow up with parents who do not show up for their conferences. I hope that these tips help you to make it through parent/teacher conferences! Happy conferencing!

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience.


Filed under Academic Success, Classroom Community

Carvin’ Up Some Great Informational Writing

by Kelli Lewis

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Gotta teach informational writing this year and need a way to spice it up a bit?  How about teaching it during the month of October and having your students learn about pumpkins…while carving them in the process, of course!? Consider this fun twist on traditional expository writing assignments: Have your students create instructional books about pumpkins, along with a step-by-step “How-To Carve A Pumpkin” guide to go along with it.

Like the idea? Here’s a detailed lesson plan to follow. (This plan was created for first-graders and designed to take one day, but it could be easily modified for older grades, as well.)


ELA1W2 b.) The student produces informational writing that stays on topic and begins to maintain a focus.

ELA1W2 d.) The student produces informational writing that begins to use organizational structures (steps, chronological order) and strategies (description).

ELA1W2 h.) The student produces informational writing that may include oral or written prewriting (graphic organizers).

Materials Needed:

The Pumpkin Book, by Gail Gibbons (available at The School Box)

-sticky notes

-chart paper


-web/bubble graphic organizer, for informational sentences


-pumpkins: choose one of the following, according to your classroom’s needs: 1) small pumpkins for every child, 2) medium-sized pumpkins for each group, or 3) two large-sized pumpkins for you and a parent volunteer to demonstrate.

-carving tools

-large trash bag

-butcher paper/newspaper to lay down on the floor/table, underneath the pumpkins

– “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet for documenting (This graphic organizer should just have spaces for: materials, “First you…”, “Second you…”, “Next you…”, “Finally you…”)


  1. Ask your students: What is informational writing? What is a topic?
  2. Read aloud The Pumpkin Book by Gail Gibbons.
  3. Reread the book again, using sticky notes to demonstrate how to take notes and copy an informational statement as you’re reading. Post the sticky note to the page in which you found it. Make as many ‘notes’ as you have room for on your web/bubble graphic organizer.
  4. Go back through the book and transfer your sticky-note information onto the web/bubble graphic organizer. Demonstrate this process to your class. Write each statement from the sticky notes onto the graphic organizer, around the topic “pumpkins” in the middle of the page.
  5. Have students return to their desks and copy your graphic organizer’s information onto their own graphic organizer. (For older grades, students could repeat this process independently with a second pumpkin story or book).
  6. Discuss the “step-by-step” processes for creating a jack-o-lantern.  Discuss the importance of listing the materials and being sure the steps are in order and nothing is left out. Discuss ideas with your students about what you would write.
  7. Record ideas, as you discuss, onto your “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet.
  8. Decide, as a class, what the “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet should say. Then, start to create the list of materials and steps.
  9. When it is complete, have your students copy it onto their own “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet.
  10. Now it’s time to carve!  As you carve, refer back to the the “How to Make a Jack-O-Lantern” sheet, made by your class, to see if the steps are in the correct order and that nothing was left out!

Happy carving!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia who often shares her wonderful ideas on A Learning Experience. (Lucky us!)


Filed under Assessments, comprehension, Cooperative Learning, Reading, Writing

A Skit! (bring the Revolutionary War to life in your class!)

by Kelli Lewis

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Skits, anyone? I always strive my hardest to make lessons and activities hands-on, engaging, interactive, and interesting because I feel that is how students learn better and learn more. I taught a week-long unit on Paul Revere and wanted to find a way to incorporate some acting for the students to perform. I searched online but found nothing. I ended up writing my own script. My class did the skit several times, to ensure that all students received a part. The students broke into groups and practiced their parts with other students who had that same part.

The skit is primarily a conversation between two modern-day peers who are discussing the Boston Tea Party. As they are discussing the events that occurred, the setting flashes back to pre-Revolutionary War Boston, and other students then act out the events.

Here’s the script:

Narrator 1: Hey, what are you doing?

Narrator 2: Oh, I’m just learning about The Boston Tea Party.

Narrator 1: A tea party? In Boston? When?

Narrator 2: No, silly. The Boston Tea Party happened a long time ago during the American Revolution.

Narrator 1: Oh, what happened?

Narrator 2: Well, the colonists were tired of King George III.

Narrator 1: What was so bad about King George III?

Narrator 2: Well, for one thing, he lived in England over 3 thousand miles away from the colonies. He was making laws and trying to rule the colonists.

Narrator 1: Were the laws fair?

Narrator 2: No, so the colonists protested.

Sons of Liberty 1: Listen here, King George III! We have our own laws!

Sons of Liberty 2: And we don’t want yours.

Sons of Liberty 3: We already pay a lot of taxes!

Sons of Liberty 1: Yeah, leave us alone!

Sons of Liberty 2: We should not have to pay a tax on tea.

Sons of Liberty 3: Let’s go talk to Paul Revere.

Narrator 1: Then what happened?

Narrator 2: Well, a man by the name of Paul Revere led a group of colonists. They called themselves the Sons of Liberty.

Narrator 1: What did they do about the taxes?

Paul Revere: Listen, men, why should we pay taxes when the king does not listen to our opinion?

Sons of Liberty 1: Yeah, no taxation without representation!

Sons of Liberty 2: Let’s do something about it!

Paul Revere: How about we form a secret club, dress up like Indians, march on board the ships, and….

Sons of Liberty 3: DUMP THE TEA!!

[Sons of Liberty 1,2,3 and Paul Revere dress as Indians.]

Narrator 1: Wait, you mean they wanted to dump the tea from all of the ships?

Narrator 2: Yes, every last bit.

Narrator 1: How would that end the tax on tea?

Narrator 2: Well, if all the tea was destroyed, then no one could pay taxes on the tea.

Narrator 1: That would get the king’s attention!

Narrator 2: Right. So on December 16, 1773….

Paul Revere: Ready men? Tonight we take over the ships.

Sons of Liberty 1: Let’s go!

Sons of Liberty 2: I’m ready!

Sons of Liberty 3: Me too!

[Sons of Liberty 1,2,3 and Paul Revere enter the ship.]

Paul Revere: Grab every pound of tea and throw it in the ocean!

[Sons of Liberty 1,2,3 and Paul Revere grab all of the tea bags and throw it overboard.]

Narrator 1: It sounds like Boston was a real hot spot in the American Revolution.

Narrator 2: Yeah, the scene of a very famous party!

Narrator 1: Not just any party…the Boston Tea Party!

Kelli Lewis is an Early Childhood Education graduate student at the University of Georgia whose great ideas we are honored to share on A Learning Experience!


Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, History

Create an Interactive Bulletin Board!

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by Rachel Stepp

Classrooms need to be designed with students in mind, and one way to bring student involvement into your room design is by creating an interactive bulletin board. Here are some ideas to take your board from blah to brilliant!

1. Did You Know?

Create a spot where you can post a simple question related to something in your curriculum. Students can then move a clothespin that has their names written on it to a side of a poster where one side represents, “Yes, I knew that!” and the other side states, “No, I did not know that, but I do now!” By doing this, you can pre-assess your students and understand their background knowledge.

2. Challenge Question

Post a question each week that relates to what your students are learning but challenges them to think deeper. You can keep track of this by using a library pocket (available at stores such as The School Box) to hold blank answer sheets and another library pocket to hold students’ answer submissions. At the end of the week, students who answered correctly can win a homework pass or another incentive.

3. Question of the Day

Create a poster that has a spot to place a new question everyday. This question can be secured with a tack or tape. The questions posed can be multiple choice questions about topics that were previously taught. At the bottom of the poster, place three library pockets labeled “A,” “B,” and “C.” Students can answer the question of the day by putting a Popsicle stick with their name on it into the pocket that corresponds with their answer. Students can answer this question as they first come into the classroom or as morning work. This is a great way to review and assess students!

4. Related Work Folders

At the bottom of your bulletin board, you can create file folder pockets (using stapled file folders) for each subject area you teach in your classroom. In these pockets, you can put related worksheets or activity guides for students to complete during their spare time. For example, in the Language Arts file folder pocket, you might place a worksheet about verbs because your students studied verbs the week before. Having worksheets for the students to work on during their own time eliminates off-task behaviors and unproductive down time.

An interactive bulletin board is great for any classroom because once it has been created, it can easily be altered without redoing the entire bulletin board. The questions can be changed for any topic and grade level. If you do not have a spare bulletin board, any one of these ideas can be implemented on a sheet of poster board, as well.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, currently working on a Masters in Early Childhood Education.


Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Classroom Decor, Morning Work

Engaging and Easy End-of-the-Year Activities

The end is drawing near, and it’s time to finish with a bang! Here are some grand activities to take you through the final days of the school year.

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by Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed.

Collaborative writing

In groups of four, have each person write an opening to a story (a mystery, a silly story, or whatever you decide).  Let them write a story opener for 5 minutes, then pass the paper to their left.  The next person reads the story opener of the person who just passed to them, then continues the story by adding the conflict or problem.  This person also writes for five minutes.  Then, each person passes again to the left, reads what’s written, then writes for five more minutes (continuing the story), and then pass again.  Finally, each person writes a final time (the conclusion), and then passes so that each person has the story they began.  Once they see what their group members wrote, the giggle fest begins!  And guess what… they just wrote four paragraphs!

Culminating projects

I like to send my students on a “scavenger hunt” to review the topics we learned throughout the year (see attached details and grading rubric).  Although you could easily tailor this project to any subject area, I use this idea in math.  This review project shows that the concepts they’ve learned in math have real-world relevance, application and connection.  The students enjoy the openness and creativity with which they’re tasked – no rigid project rules here!  Students’ projects are so creative and different from one another, too!  (A big thank you goes to Sharon Shaw for the idea; I took her high school version and made it fifth-grade appropriate).

Review games

I love the variety of PowerPoint games you can find online these days!  From Jeopardy! to Who Wants to be a Millionaire! to Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?… the options are endless!  You can choose from making your own questions from the templates or the ready-made games (both free!) chock full of good review questions.  Use your favorite search engine to find the exciting options out there!

As we draw to the close of another school year, we need to keep the academics flowing even if the energy level is low.  Students will enjoy these hands-on, energetic activities that review and reinforce the concepts taught throughout the year!

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.

To submit your own ideas for publication, simply e-mail an original educational article (250-500 words) to editor@schoolbox.com. You’ll receive a $35 School Box Gift Card if you are selected for publication!


Filed under Assessments, Behavior Management, Classroom Community, Cooperative Learning, Discipline, Games, Writing

A Little at a Time

by Kristin M. Woolums, M.Ed.

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We’ve all been told that doing things in small doses instead of one large task is the better way to get things done.  This is true in the classroom, as well.  Think about it:  we tell our students to study a little each night for an upcoming test, and that all night cram sessions don’t work (and actually work against a student).  Why not apply this philosophy other areas and subjects in my classroom?

Homophones in the Morning

Each day, my students and I discuss a homophone pair or trio as a part of their morning work.  For example, the homophones there, their, and there are constantly mixed up by students and adults alike.  We discuss the meanings of these words (usually accompanied by pictures or phrases for each word), the similarities and differences, why they’re easily confused in the real world, and ways to help keep them straight.  The students then use each word in a sentence (10 or more words in my 5th grade class).

By the end of the school year, we’ve introduced or reinforced the meanings of over 200 words, 2 or 3 at a time.  Students “blossom” in improvement in the use of these homophones, as well as in their sentence length and creativity. This is a must for the English language learners in my classroom, too.  See the attached list of homophones I use each day in my classroom, but many more are available online.

Daily Grammar Practice

Many students don’t enjoy grammar.  Thanks to a great grammar program called Daily Grammar Practice (DGP, for short), we take on grammar for 5 minutes each morning.  DGP is effective because it breaks down the grammar parts on a weekly sentence, but it allows students to see how the parts all fit together.  The best part is that if a student doesn’t “get” the sentence one week, there will be another one the next week, and the repetition ensures that what’s learned is not forgotten.  Offered for grades 1-12, it’s a program that I use each day with conviction.  It’s like taking a daily vitamin of grammar! (Visit dgppublishing.com)

Some other things a teacher could do on a daily basis are:

  • Estimation of whole numbers, fractions, or decimals while learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Quote of the day – give each student a quote and let them explore its origin and meaning
  • Famous figure of the day – whether it’s a famous scientist, entertainer, story character, or historical figure, the options are limitless of learning about a new person each day.
  • State or country of the day – assign each person a region to research and share with the class.

I didn’t invent anything new here, but it’s reaffirming to see how students learn so much better when they take in a little at a time.  I can’t imagine a lesson on just homophones or just estimation!  But broken down into easily digestible daily parts, these ideas are much more manageable for student and teacher alike!

Kristin M. Woolums, M. Ed., teaches fifth grade at a private school in Atlanta and works at The School Box at Southlake during the summer months.

To submit your own ideas for publication, simply e-mail an original educational article (250-500 words) to editor@schoolbox.com. You’ll receive a $35 School Box Gift Card if you are selected for publication!


Filed under grammar, Morning Work, Uncategorized, Writing

The Plot Thickens: A Graphic Organizer for Teaching Writing

So, it’s time to assign a writing project to your class. You want creative stories with a clear beginning, middle and end. But how do you get your students–from third grade through high school–to craft well-developed tales (and not rambling gibberish that, let’s face it, you will dread grading)?

Here’s a super creative way to teach plot to your students. Just walk them through the attached Plot Skeleton organizer (which was adapted from Angela E. Hunt), and they’ll be equipped with all the elements of a good story.

An Explanation of the Chart:

Main Character Needs: What are the deep needs of your main character (which will turn into motives for action)? Most have an obvious need (like survival for Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web) and a hidden need (like Wilbur’s need for acceptance).

Inciting Incident: What happens to change the course of the story? (i.e. The conflict, like when Wilbur discovers that pigs’ purpose is to become food for the farmer.)

Complications: Events that happen as the main character tries to resolve the conflict. There are usually a couple complications that lead to the “bleakest moment.” Ex: Wilbur tries to escape but realizes the world is too scary for him; Fern is growing up and not as interested in Wilbur anymore; Bleakest Moment: Charlotte dies

Help: What happens to help the character overcome the conflict? Ex: Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by spinning words in her web.

Lesson or Decision: What lesson is learned or decision made by the main character as a result? Ex: Wilbur discovers that friendship is of paramount importance and friends sometimes come from unlikely places.

Resolution: How do the character’s needs ultimately get met or resolved? Ex: Wilbur takes Charlotte’s babies back to the farm, where he befriends several of them and never again feels lonely.

Here’s how to use it:

1. First, model how to fill out the skeleton by completing one or two together (either on an overhead projector or on the board), using books you’ve read together as a class to complete the blanks.

2. Then, model creating a story from your own imagination, and fill in the chart in front of the class, showing them how to use questioning to develop your story (i.e. “What could be the inciting incident that gets the action rolling?” and “I wonder why a character would do that. What could be their inner need?”).

3. Give a copy to each student and have them brainstorm ideas for their own story, using the chart as a guideline.

4. Have students share their plot skeleton charts with a partner at the end of class to get feedback and additional ideas.

5. From the plot skeleton, students then begin drafting their stories.

This chart takes more scaffolding in the younger grades (third through fifth), but it’s worth the effort. These components of a strong plot will ensure quality writing from your students–writing you’ll actually enjoy grading!

To download the graphic organizer, click here!

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Filed under Academic Success, Assessments, Writing